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Presence Meditation 101

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Lesson 2, Topic 1
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The Work That Reconnects Spiral Copy

Here is a writing exercise that you can do, and then if you like share it with your partner in presence. 

We have been reading Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Dr Chris Johnsone in Presence Collective. 

This above diagram from Chris shows the sequence of a transformative dip that can lead into Active Hope. 

Joanna Macy shares in the work that reconnects the spiral which offers a process to go through. 

This has four stages: Gratitude  – Honouring our Pain for the World – Seeing with New Eyes/Ancient Eyes – 
 Going Forth 

These practices are taken from the book Coming Back to Life, by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown.  And I have adapted them slightly in order to make them work for you to do them alone in your own space.


You will need:

* your notebook

* a pen

* a bowl of water

* A piece of paper or canvas 

* Paints or coloured pens 



Principles of Gratitude Practices

  • The originating impulse of all religious and spiritual traditions is gratitude for the gift of life. Yet we so easily take this gift of life for granted, which perhaps is why many spiritual paths begin with thanksgiving, to remind us that for all our woes and worries, our existence itself is an unearned benefaction.  

In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, we are to pause at the start of meditative practice and reflect on the preciousness of a human life.  This is not because we humans are morally superior to other beings, but because we can “change the karma.”  In other words, with self-reflexive consciousness, we are graced with the capacity for choice – to take stock of what we are doing and change directions.  We may have depended primarily on instinct for eons of lifetimes as other life forms, but now at last we are granted the ability to consider and judge and choose.  Weaving our ever-complexifying neural circuits into the miracle of self-awareness, life yearned through us for the ability to know and act and speak on behalf of the larger whole.  Now that time has come, when by our own decision we can consciously enter the dance.  

  • In times of turmoil and danger, gratitude helps to steady and ground us.  It brings us into presence, and our full presence is perhaps the best offering we can make to our world.

In Buddhist practice, that first reflection on the preciousness of human life is immediately followed by a second one, on its brevity. “Death is certain; the time of death is uncertain.”  And that reflection awakens us to the gift of the present moment – to seize this unrepeatable chance to be alive—right now.

  • That our world is in crisis – to the point where survival of conscious life on Earth is in question – in no way diminishes the wonder of this present moment.  For the great open secret is this: gratitude is not dependent on our external circumstances.  It does not depend on whether we like where we are or approve of what we are facing.  On the contrary, to us is granted the great privilege of being on hand to take part, if we choose, in the Great Turning.  We can let the hardships of this time enlist all our strength, wisdom, and courage, so that life can continue.
  • Gratitude is politically subversive in the Industrial Growth Society. It helps inoculate us against the consumerism upon which corporate capitalism depends. It serves as a counterweight to the dissatisfaction with what we have and are, the craving and neediness inflamed by our political economy.
  • Gratitude is at the core of indigenous culture on Turtle Island (North America). Among the Haudenosaunee in particular, this is seen as a sacred duty. At the beginning of virtually every meeting or ceremony, thanks and greetings – “the words that come before all else”—are offered to all that gives life: from our eldest brother, the sun, to water, winds, plants, animals, and Grandmother Moon.

Perhaps this practice can help us understand the remarkable self-respect and dignity of those native people who have not been defeated by centuries of broken promises and cultural genocide.  It would seem that gratitude—and the dignity and self-respect it engenders—has helped them survive.  And that is an inspiration for all of us as we face the Great Unraveling and the suffering it brings.

There is so much to be done, and the time is so short.  We can proceed, of course, out of grim and angry desperation.  But the tasks proceed more easily and productively from an attitude of thankfulness; it lets us rest in our deeper powers.



Start first with a mediation, to connect your breath and body and come into silence. You can use our mediation for cultivating presence (the 22min meditation from Presence Meditation 101). 


Open Sentences on Gratitude

Get out your journal and write for 15 mins as many sentences that come. You can use these starting points, or find your own. 

1. Some things I love about being alive in Earth are…
2. A place that was magical (or wonderful) to me as a child was….
3. A person who helped me believe in myself is or was….
4. Some things I enjoy doing and making are….
5. Some things I appreciate about myself are…


Honouring Our Pain for The World


In this stage of the Spiral of the Work That Reconnects, this is what we do.  We bring to awareness our inner responses to the suffering of our fellow-beings and the destruction of the natural world—responses that include dread, rage, sorrow, and guilt.  These feelings are healthy and inevitable—and usually blocked for reasons including the fear of getting permanently mired in despair.  Now they are allowed to surface without shame or apology.

Note the term “allowed to surface.”  We do NOT try to inspire or instill these feelings, for compassion – the capacity to suffer-with – already flows in us, like an underground river.  All we do here is help that river come to the light of day, where its currents mingle and gain momentum.  We need not scold or manipulate people into what we think they “should” be feeling if they were moral or noble; we simply help each other uncover what is already there.  Only honesty is needed.  Then we discover, as Thich Nhat Hanh has also said, “the pain and the joy are one.”

Fear of “negative thinking” causes some people to resist this aspect of the Work That Reconnects, for fear of reinforcing negativity and making things worse.  This concern usually comes from a misunderstanding of the New Age adage, “We create our own reality,” and it results in a reluctance to see what is actually going on. It is a kind of magical thinking that cuts off the feedback necessary to the system’s healing.

This stage of the Work That Reconnects involves the following steps:

  • acknowledging our pain for the world
  • validating it as a wholesome response
  •  letting ourselves experience this pain
  • feeling okay about expressing it to others  
  • recognizing how widely it is shared by others
  • and understanding that it springs from our caring and connectedness.

“I want to call your attention to what is happening here. Please observe how far the concerns you’ve just shared extend beyond your personal ego, beyond your individual needs and wants.  This says something very important about who and what you are.  It says you are capable of suffering with your world.  That capacity to suffer-with is the literal meaning of compassion, a central virtue in every spiritual tradition.  It says you are a compassionate being.  Another word for that, in Buddhism, is bodhisattva. So don’t you apologize for the tears you shed or the rage you feel about what’s happening to other beings and to our living world.  Your tears and your rage are just the other face of your belonging.”  Joanna Macy




Bowl of Tears and Open Sentences 

Fill a clear glass bowl about a third full of water and place it near you. The water represents our tears for the world. Dip a hand in the water and let it trickle through your fingers, as you say, “My tears are for…” and speak of specific beings and places. You can also add salt with each sentence to represent the salt of the ocean and our tears.

You can add more in this format if you prefer, and you can journal them as well or instead if that feels better for you. 

  1. What concerns me most about the world today is…
  2. When I see what’s happening to the natural world, what breaks my heart is….
  3. When I see what’s happening to our society, what breaks my heart is…
  4. When I think of the world we will leave our children, it looks like…
  5. Feelings about all this, that I carry around with me, are…
  6. Ways I avoid these feelings are…
  7. Ways I use feelings are…

After you have finished, go to nearby body of water, or to a garden or natural area where you can pour the water, saying something to the effect of: “Our tears for the world are the tears of Gaia.”


Seeing with new/ancient eyes


The following interactive practices help us see the larger context of our lives. They use our innate powers of imagination and empathy to shift perspectives from separation to connectivity.  

People of today relate to time in a way that is surely unique in history.  The technologies and economic forces unleashed by the Industrial Growth Society radically alter our experience of time, subjecting us to frenetic speeds, and severing our felt connection with past and future generations.

The Industrial Growth Society and the technologies it requires depend on decisions made at lightning speed for short-term goals, cutting us off from nature’s rhythms. Time, both as a commodity and an experience, has become a scarcity.  It is a painful irony that we who have more time saving devices than any culture in history are the most time-harried and driven.  The paradox is only apparent, however, for our time scarcity is linked to the very time-efficiency of our technology.  Measure of time, once based on changing seasons and wheeling stars, then much later the ticking of the clock, is now parceled out in nanoseconds. We have lost time as a biologically measurable experience.

Marooned in the present, we are progressively blinded to the sheer on-goingness of time.  Both the legacy of our ancestors and the claims of our descendants become less and less real.  Our culture’s readiness to demolish treasures of the past, and to permanently poison the aquifers the future ones will need, reveals a pathetically shrunken sense of time and a pathological denial of its continuity.   

Psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton argues that the development and use of nuclear weapons has crippled our capacity to imagine a long-term future.  The import of climate disruption has a similar effect.  Lifton calls it the broken connection. “We are thus among the first to live with a recurrent sense of biological severance.”

This peculiar relation to time is inherently destructive of the quality and value of our lives, and of the living body of Earth.  And it will intensify because the Industrial Growth Society is, in systems’ terms, on exponential “runaway” – accelerating toward its own collapse.  

Even as we see its consequences, this relation to time is not innate in us.  As humans we have the capacity and the birthright to experience time in a saner fashion.  Throughout history, men and women have labored at great personal cost to bequeath to future generations monuments of art and learning, to endure far beyond their individual lives.  And they have honored, through ritual and story, those who came before.

As we take part in the Great Turning to a life-sustaining society, we learn to act like ancestors of future generations.  We attune to longer ecological rhythms and nourish a strong felt connection with past and future beings.  For us as agents of change, this isn’t easy, because to intervene in the Industrial Growth Society, we can’t avoid falling into its tempo.  We race to find and pull the levers before it is too late to save this forest, or stop that weapons program.  Nonetheless, we can learn again to drink at deeper wells.



Four Voices:

Activists want to be able to express their views about an issue clearly, even passionately.  At the same time, for their own understanding and skillfulness, they want to see differing and opposing perspectives on this issue.  This favorite exercise of ours helps us do both.  And in the process it loosens the grip of self-righteousness and opens the mind to progressively larger contexts and to widening circles of identity.

After a minute of silence, begin to write about the issue that is closest to your heart. Write from four different perspectives. 

(1) from your own point of view, including your feelings about the issue;

(2) from the perspective of a person who holds opposing views on this issue, introducing themselves and speaking as this person, using the pronoun “I”;

(3) from the viewpoint of a nonhuman being that is affected by that particular situation;

(4) and lastly, in the voice of a future human whose life is affected by the choices made now on this issue.

(5) you might also want to add the perspective of an ancestor, and let them speak through you too. 


Make sure you always write from “I” so that you are them not you. To speak on behalf of another, and identify even briefly with that being’s experience and perspective, is an act of moral imagination.  It is not difficult to do: as children we knew how to “play-act.”  Use an uncharged, almost casual tone in your instructions; you are not asking people to channel or be omniscient, but simply to imagine another point of view.  Allow some silence as you choose for whom you will speak, and imaginatively enter that other’s experience, so you can respect it and not perform a caricature of it.  It is a brave and generous act to make room in your mind for another’s experience and to lend them your voice. 

This may be wonderful to share with your partner in presence when you speak (if you have one). 


Going Forth

From these practices, you may have come to see with new eyes our ineluctable place in the web of life, our connections with all beings through space and time, and the kind of power that is ours for creating a life-sustaining culture. Now we use this new vision to discern the distinctive role we each can play in the Great Turning.




Imaging our Power

Imaging on paper with colors can give us access to intuitive wisdom.  Here we allow a subliminal sense of potential to emerge in graphic form. 

Our sense of the power that is in us can be hard to convey in words.  Close your eyes and breathe deeply for a moment or two…then try to sense what your power is like…  Let images and sensations emerge…  Then take your paper and colors and begin to draw how that power feels or appears to you at this moment.  Do this quickly, without too much thought.

You can then share your picture through a photograph in our community group – and share what it means for you. 


Five Vows

You may also want to commit to the five vows below – or write your own!

  • I vow to myself and to each of you to commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products, and energy I consume.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, the future beings, and our siblings of all species.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to support you in your work for the world, and to ask for help when I need it.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to pursue a daily spiritual practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart, and supports me in observing these vows.